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The Future of Lawyers in the Age of AI: Embracing Technology and Reimagining the Billable Hour Model

There are warnings that ChatGPT-style software, with its humanlike language fluency, could take over much of legal work. New AI tech can analyze words and generate text in an instant. It seems ready to perform tasks that are lawyers' bread and butter.
There are warnings that ChatGPT-style software, with its humanlike language fluency, could take over much of legal work.

New AI tech can analyze words and generate text in an instant.

It seems ready to perform tasks that are lawyers' bread and butter.

Over a decade ago, predictions emerged that artificial intelligence would lead to job losses in the legal profession.

Lawyers were identified as a vulnerable group, at risk of being replaced by AI-powered software.

However, these predictions were premature, as employment in the legal sector has grown faster than the overall workforce.

Now, lawyers are facing a new threat from AI, as ChatGPT-style software with its humanlike language skills could take over much of the legal work.

Despite concerns about the technology's tendency to make errors, proponents believe these issues are temporary and fixable.

The legal profession, with its focus on words and language, is seen as particularly vulnerable to the impact of AI.

An intellectual property lawyer in Cambridge, Mass mentioned the potential of the new technology, saying that his work and career has been mostly writing text.

However, the impact of the new technology on the legal profession is more likely to be a gradual change rather than a sudden wave.

While some jobs will be eliminated, the new A.I. promises to make lawyers and paralegals more productive and create new roles, similar to what happened with the introduction of other technologies like personal computers and the internet.

Studies have shown that the legal services industry is the most exposed to the new A.I., with 44 percent of legal work estimated to be automated, according to economists at Goldman Sachs.

This percentage is higher than the percentage for office and administrative support jobs, which is 46 percent.

The legal profession is not the only occupation facing the impact of A.I. advancements.

According to a study by OpenAI and the University of Pennsylvania, about 80 percent of American workers will have some of their tasks affected by the latest A.I. software.

While the legal profession has been identified as a target for A.I. automation in the past, the reality has been more gradual than anticipated.

A.I. has mainly been used to identify and sort words in documents and has served more as an assistant than a replacement for lawyers.

However, the recent advances in large language models, such as ChatGPT, are a significant leap forward.

Baker McKenzie, an international law firm, has set up a committee to track emerging technology and integrate it into their strategy.

A.I. software has steadily made its way into the industry, with the potential to act as a highly intelligent paralegal that can read, analyze and summarize legal documents.

According to a chief innovation officer, the latest A.I. software will require everyone in the legal profession to move up the skills ladder to stay ahead of the technology.

The work of humans will be to focus on developing industry expertise, exercising judgment in complex legal matters, and building trusted relationships with clients.

While technology has eliminated many jobs in recent years, the impact tends to come gradually over a decade or more.

The outlook for lawyers and paralegals is currently projected to continue growing faster than the labor market as a whole.

However, the arrival of new A.I. software is being closely watched, and its long-term impact is still unknown.

Lawyers are still testing the technology, as data protection and client confidentiality are critical in legal work.

Moreover, the software's tendency to make confident assumptions is alarming in a profession that relies on finding and weighing facts.

To address concerns regarding data protection and client confidentiality, legal tech start-ups such as Casetext and Harvey have developed tailored software that runs on top of technology engines like ChatGPT, specifically fine-tuned for legal work.

Lawyers are able to load a case's documents and request the software to draft deposition questions, and within a few minutes, it provides a list of pertinent questions.

However, successfully using A.I. requires ample relevant data and detailed and specific questions, whereas more open-ended questions are still challenging for the technology.

Lawyers at big firms have seen significant time savings for certain jobs, and consider the technology as a tool to make teams of lawyers and paralegals more productive.

Sole practitioners view the technology as more of a partner in practice.

For instance, Mr. Washington, a lawyer in Flint, Michigan, tested Casetext's CoCounsel software, which utilizes the latest ChatGPT technology, in a suit against the City of Flint.

The software reviewed over 400 pages of documents and provided a summary that highlighted an important gap in the defense's case in just a few minutes.

Mr. Washington stated that the program completed in a few minutes what would have taken him several hours, describing it as a real game changer.

However, it remains uncertain how much and how soon the legal profession will change.

The new A.I. is a challenge to the status quo.

Higher productivity means fewer billable hours, yet hourly billing remains the dominant business model in legal work.

A.I. should increase the pressure from corporate clients to pay law firms for work done rather than time spent.

But top corporate legal officers — the customers — are typically former partners and associates in big law firms, steeped in the same traditions.

There is a huge opportunity for A.I. in legal services, but the professional culture is very conservative.

The future is coming, but it may not be as fast as some predict.

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